Monday, October 09, 2006

Graffiti is a kind of fingerprint. Metropolitan police officers have been known to turn up to the opening nights of graffiti-based gallery shows armed with photographs of tags in order to pin down the faces behind the art. Veteran taggers don’t need to resort to entrapment: they claim they can read off a biography from most walls. The height of a text betrays how tall the artist is; the slope of the lettering if they’re left- or right-handed; the intensity of the spray whether the can has been tilted or held at length.

Ornate styles, those where the tops of letters have a lot of flare, or which effulge with star and cloud symbols, tend to be the work of Europeans. British tags, by contrast, are normally more blunt, less affected: the can is neither pulled back or pushed forward, merely held straight to the wall. London tags are noted for their rawness: almost always simple motifs and on the small side, they are often in black and white, as those putting them up don’t have enough time for colour. In villages or small towns, it only takes one or two distinctive tags to make an artist’s name; in the capital, where competition is fiercer, there is a greater focus on quantity. The art veers toward branding: the shape of the letters, endlessly repeated across the city buildings, is as important as the words.

Pirate Texts is Sukhdev Sandhu's eighth episode for Night Haunts which launched in February 2006. Artangel Interaction invited Sandhu to record his forays into the London night in this special collaboration with web designer Ian Budden of Mind Unit and sound artist Scanner. To read more click on

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